Choosing your GCSE subjects is a big decision when you are twelve or thirteen. Up until this point, what you have studied is prescribed, from the moment you walk through the school gates to the moment you leave.
Suddenly you have to choose two or three subjects (only) from a choice of up to twenty (or more) different subjects. There are the old familiar ones, which have been studied since primary school: History, Geography, Religious Studies, Music, Drama, Computer Science, Art and the many and varied technology subjects. Then, depending on the school, there can be new tantalising subjects, offering the option to try something different: Astronomy, Archaeology, Business Studies, Philosophy, Sociology, Health and Social Care, Sport (as a separate subject), Classical Civilisation, Dance etc etc.
One of my students chose the GCSE subject that he came to hate, because he loved the teacher who taught it in Year 8, who made it fun and exciting. Unfortunately, in Year 9, the teacher changed, and to put it politely, the new teacher was not this student’s favourite. However a different student loves the opportunity to cook and prepare food once a week and does not see the subject as a lesson, but instead a chance to practise and perfect his favourite hobby. These two stories show the importance of choosing your GCSE subjects wisely.
The Compulsory Subjects
With the introduction of the English Baccalaureate (www.gov.uk) some subjects are set in stone and have to be studied: Maths, English, Science, a language, geography or history. The government’s view is that it keeps options open for further studies and careers. Add to these Religious Studies, compulsory in some schools, and it means that you have very little choice in what you study, thus making the subjects that you do choose even more important. They are the flavour and filling in your choice of cake…you’re only going to have one piece, so make the choice that is right for YOU.
History or Geography?
Choosing between these two familiar subjects can be one of the hardest decisions to make. There are key similarities and differences between them. Both are heavily examined with three separate exam papers for each, although some History options have two longer papers. However, Geography is examined with more short answer questions, and has a practical element in its fieldwork. You might look forward to interviewing tourists in a ‘honeypot’ site in the Yorkshire Dales or examining coastal erosion in Dorset. Geography will certainly get you out of school. History, on the other hand, is a subject that students often feel passionate about. At GCSE they will get to delve deeper into firm favourites like the causes of World War Two, the Tudors and twentieth century USA. However, courses do differ for both subjects, depending on the exam board and departmental preference, so ask what you will be studying first to see if it interests you. By Year 8 or 9, you will probably have a favourite, so choose that one. You can always choose both!
Having a modern foreign language at GCSE is a highly valued qualification. If you have to choose between different languages, choose the one that you are best at and which comes more naturally. If you can choose more than one language, and you have a gift for languages, choose more than one.
Exams and Coursework
Most subjects are assessed entirely with external examinations…two or three papers for each subject. It is not unusual to have twenty five plus separate GCSE papers to sit in a five week period. At no other point in your life, even if studying medicine, will you have to sit so many exams in such a short period. Some young people thrive under this pressure, while others dread exams and find them an unfair form of assessment. Many of the GCSE option subjects (Music, the Design Technology subjects, Health and Social Care, Drama, Art and Sport) still have a big coursework component and only one exam paper, which is worth a consideration.
However, if you have a couple of these subjects, final coursework deadlines will come at the same time as final revision demands for other GCSE subjects and it takes good organisational skills to manage both.
What do you enjoy?
Ultimately, choose subjects that you are good at, enjoy and find interesting. Having lessons in your timetable where you can paint, cook, dance, design, sing, play sport, debate philosophical and ethical ideas will help your day to be more enjoyable and add flavour to your week.
Here at www.studentnavigator.co.uk we can help you choosing your GCSE subjects in a one-off bespoke mentoring session. Our mentoring and study programmes support young people in their GCSE and A level studies. Contact us today to find out how we can support you.